There’s an argument to be made for Bruce Springsteen being the quintessential American song writer of the last 40 odd years. Sure, America has produced people like Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, and Tom Petty and countless others in that time, but Springsteen has stayed more current in the present day conversation than any of his contemporaries. And he still manages to release original material on the regular, while at the same time playing 10 hour live sets, eight nights a week. But before he was the quintessential American song writer of the last 40 odd years, he had to start somewhere. He had to start with Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ.
And what a start he made. If Blinded By the Light was awarded the title of Greatest Opening Track on a Debut Album of All Time, I wouldn’t have an argument for any other song ready to go. It’s so good, all I can think is, why is the inferior Mandred Mann cover version more well known? The wailing sax, jaunty beat and jangled guitars just make the Boss’ original so infectious.
There’s simplicity to Growin’ Up that makes me think it would work if it was just Springsteen and an acoustic guitar. But when it’s filled out by his E Street Band, it becomes so much more. As much as I love punk rock and garage bands who succeed despite their lack of musical skill, there’s something to be said for bands made up of professional, lifelong musicians who perfected their craft long before they ever got a record deal.
Speaking of just Springsteen and an acoustic guitar (OK, you got me, there’s a little harmonica as well), Mary Queen of Arkansas sounds like it’s straight from Mary’s home state and could be sung by striking coal miners. Then it’s a return to the jaunt with Does This Bus Stop at 82nd St?. If you’ve ever thought, “I bet I’d like Bob Dylan songs like Like a Rolling Stone more of he could actually sing and put a little oomph into it”, then this song is here to prove your theory correct.
When Springsteen decides to get wistful and nostalgic, he decides it’s time for the piano fuelled The Angel. It’s a nice enough song, but I was so in the groove of the more upbeat approach before this, that The Angel slows things down a little too jarringly. Luckily, it’s just a quick little breath catcher before the toe tapping of For You, a great companion to Blinded By the Light.
The sexy, sexy sax of the sexy, sexy Clarence Clemons in the intro to Spirit in the Night was in no way expected. And initially, it was in no way appreciated. But as the swinging beat and speak singing rolled out, it went from oddity, to kind of interesting oddity.
Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ doesn’t really sound like the Bruce Springsteen who’s been a mega star my entire life. If, like me, you’re only familiar with the hits, you probably think of songs like Born in the USA and Dancing in the Dark. Asbury Park is a lot more concerned with melody and an overall lighter touch. And because of that, it’s so much better than my preconceptions of the Bruce Springsteen who’s been a mega star my entire life.